Until last week, if you’d told me Florida peaches were just as good as famous Georgia peaches, I would have balked. But that’s before I discovered this Orlando u-pick peach farm near Clermont, smack in the middle of the state.
I’m well-versed in the flavor bombs that are Florida strawberries (second only to Norwegian strawberries and New Zealand strawberries) and our celebrated citrus at the state’s many excellent U-pick farms where you can pluck the seasonal bounty.
Yet somehow, despite years of calling the Sunshine State home, I had no idea how incredibly delicious and different Florida peaches are.
That’s because you won’t find Florida peaches for sale in big supermarket chains like Publix and the like. And they’re regrettably few and far between at farm stands, too, for reasons I can’t explain.
I also didn’t know how good Florida peaches are and all I’ve been missing out on because I hadn’t yet visited Southern Hill Farms, my new favorite u-pick farm near Orlando where peaches are in season from April to June on the five sprawling acres of peach trees recently planted here.
What kind of peaches grow at Florida’s u-pick peach farms?
This is where it gets interesting. Florida peaches actually differ genetically from their cousins in Georgia and South Carolina.
They have a firmer, sweet flesh and they come into season far earlier than other peaches.
At Southern Hill Farms u-pick farm near Orlando, they grow three varieties of peaches that include FloridaGlo, FloridaPrince and TropicBeauty peaches for a mix of yellow and white-fleshed fruit.
Florida peaches are smaller—most fit with plenty of room in the palm of your hand, with room to close your fingers all around them. I can finish these beauties in about four delicious bites and one is never enough. And while their flesh is firmer than Georgia peaches, it’s still soft, sweet and delicious–perfect for making a cobbler or slicing into a fruit salad.
How to pick peaches at Southern Hill Farms u-pick peach farm
When you arrive at the sprawling 120-acre Southern Hill Farms, they give you a detailed spiel about how everything works and direct you to where to grab a box for picking, reminding visitors to make sure to wash their hands before venturing forth and to only pick the fruit they intend to buy.
Usually I tune out during these things if they drone on too long, but it’s worth paying attention, as there are all kinds of rules about what you pay for when and how many peaches you’re allowed to taste before picking from a certain tree (I took some liberties with that last one).
The trees are flagged with yellow and white markers at their bases that let you know if you’re plucking fruits with yellow or white flesh. After some liberal taste-testing through the orchard, I found the fruit from the yellow-flagged trees to be a bit too sweet for my taste and decided I preferred to forage from the white-flagged trees, which were heavy with FloridaGlo peaches. My new favorites, now that I am a bonafide Florida peach convert.
Peaches grow in one part of the farm while blueberries, which are in season at the same time, are in another. You can easily walk between the two sections but you have to pay for the fruit from each section before moving on to the next fruit-picking experience (they have a real system here as the farm gets crowded, particularly on the weekends, which I would recommend avoiding if possible).
The farm is pretty spread out, with a u-pick flower area, too, full of Zinnias and sunflowers that’s an Instagrammer’s dream. There is even a vintage-looking powder blue couch you can pose on with a sea of yellow flowers behind you that could just as well be in Provence, it’s that scenic.
Other things to do at Southern Hill Farms
The folks who built this place clearly know what they’re doing, as picking blueberries, peaches and sunflowers is hardly the only way to part with your money during a visit.
Covered barns huddled at the center of things are busy with visitors swaying in rocking chairs in the shade and enjoying a freshly-made blueberry donut along with a game of bean bag toss with friends.
There’s a covered playground area, too, where kids can play shaded from the blazing Florida sun. There’s even a blueberry mimosa deck overlooking the blueberry fields if you’re feeling festive.
On weekends during the cooler months, including spring and fall, tractors pull wagons through the fields for narrated tours of the grounds, food trucks serve lunch offerings and there’s even live music to add to the gone-country party vibe.
Getting to Southern Hill Farms
Southern Hill Farms sits at the end of a sandy road located just south of Clermont in Central Florida.
Count on about 30 minutes to drive here from downtown Orlando and just 15 minutes to get here from Walt Disney World and the surrounding theme parks (it’s about 1.5 hours from Tampa, if you’re over on Florida’s Gulf Coast). If you start to wonder if you’re on the right road, just keep going. There’s free parking in a huge lot onsite. Bring a stroller if you have kids as the farm sprawls far and wide. They rent wagons onsite, too, for $8, which makes it easy to carry around all your fruit and flowers if you plan on picking a bunch.
What I like about the location compared to some other u-pick farms I’ve been to is this place really does feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere, with gently rolling landscapes all around and no signs of big city life and highways anywhere.
Now, who has a good peach sangria recipe to share?